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Old December 8th, 2008, 12:01 PM
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Final Thoughts:

Here are some of my final thoughts on Celebrity Solstice - based upon having spent a week sailing on her rather than the short press outing I am usually limited to…

Cabins: The one thing you notice first about the Solstice cabins is how alike they are. There is literally almost no selection in terms of layout - they are nearly identical across the board. Take almost any verandah cabin and you will see that whether they are AquaClass, Sunset Class, Concierge Class or Deluxe Ocean View with Verandah they all look identical and offer pretty much the same features.

The one way in which they vary - and it has nothing to do with category, is that every other one has the bed by the verandah instead of the sitting area. The best layout is to walk into the room and have the sitting area, not the bed. The beds are big and hard to walk around and you will find yourself NOT using the sitting area nearly as much, especially when changing clothes.

The Concierge class comes with welcome aboard sparkling wine, fresh flowers, hor d'oeuvres daily and a nice pillow-top mattress. The web site says we were to get VIP invitations to events and express luggage delivery, but we didn't get either. Our luggage came just before dinner.

Even the oceanview and inside staterooms are almost identical to the verandah cabins - minus the balcony of course. But these less expensive cabins do not save you that much money - maybe $200 per person.

One of the nicest things about a brand new ship like Solstice, that you will not see on most ships, are the beautiful 32-inch LCD TVs. They come with a variety of channels including CNN-USA or international, TNT, ESPN, etc.

They are also highly interactive - you can access dining room menus, your onboard account, shore excursions and even order room service through them. However, some of our guests said that they had trouble with the pre-recorded programs not being fully encoded onto their mini-Mac computers - so several shows they tried to watch didn't end.

Storage space - for cabins designed by women, is surprisingly low, especially closets and drawers. Now, it is easy to stuff a closet, which we did, but half of it is hidden behind the couch and hard to access. The five drawers are not long or deep. All that is left is two shelves over the bed which we had most of our clothes piled into - impossible to organize.

As far as room service, there seemed to be a number of problems, and this was probably the worst aspect of the whole trip. We ascertained that the system on Solstice is to take and prepare room service orders as usual, but then to summon a room steward to deliver the order. The problems we encountered included wait times of up to two hours for some meals, largely because of mix-ups in the "hand-off" process. My wife waited two hours for a dinner when she was sick in bed because they were trying to deliver it to the wrong room. Other times we had to call back after 45 minutes when all we were waiting for was a pot of coffee.

Some of the most disappointed people were those who had popped for the AquaSpa cabins. Still identical in layout, the difference is the amenities. You get a special shower, a yoga-TV channel, iPod players, daily iced tea, and an aromatherapy system and special soothing music system built into the room. Otherwise, the Concierge class offers the same thing.

One special bonus for the AquaSpa class is that you dine in a special restaurant called "Blu." However, the restaurant is not located in proximity of the special cabins or the spa, as one might expect. It is down by the other alternative restaurants. The feedback we got was that the food was the same as in the dining room, perhaps a smidgen lighter. One plus was that it was cooked a la minute, so it was delivered hot to your table.

The other main "bonus" is free access to the "Persian Garden," a special area within the Spa that offers aromatherapy infused misted showers, wet and dry saunas and heated ceramic beds. The unfortunate aspect is that only the AquaClass gets access to these facilities, which on other cruise lines are available to every passenger for a minimal daily charge. The feedback we got from the AquaClass passengers we met was that the Persian Garden was not as nice as on other cruise lines, and it was hardly worth a visit. Most tried it just once.

Moving on to the rest of the ship - one thing that stands out is the cost of drinks. A glass of wine could set you back as much as $11.60, for the cheapest house wines, after the 15% service charge. A bottle of beer comes to $7.20! These are pretty outrageous costs.

In the specialty dining areas a bottle will cost at least $70, compared to $32 on a less expensive cruise line. Wine by the glass is about $12. Either way - it certainly adds up.

Daily Activities: Solstice has a very active day, and will keep ship enthusiasts busy. There are several trivia games all day long. There was an onboard lecturer whose area of expertise was the Russian Space program - OK, he was good for an hour but not for the three lectures he gave.

Even the comedian, Louis Johnson, gave a daytime seminar on the importance of laughter in your life. I give him a great deal of credit for going along with the program. This is a comedian who obviously honed his skills in big city comedy clubs - not a cruise ship hack. But everything he did showed the right spirit from the "blue" show to the "seminar."

One room that was largely overlooked on the short press junket is Celebrity Central, which becomes a lecture hall by day and a stand-up comedy club by night. It also doubles as a movie theater throughout the cruise.

On a final note - the main thing is the ship itself. I found very few people who did not love it. Two people I met who did not were Carnival habitues. One sported a mullet and Harley Davidson tattoos. He referred to it as the "no-fun ship," and said he especially found the pool area to be boring with muzak instead of live music and no pool games like hairy chest or sexy legs contests. He also rightfully noted the price of drinks as being surprisingly high. On the other end was an elderly lady staying in one of the top suites who liked nothing about the ship. This lady was obviously an attention freak who sent back every entrée she was served no matter what it was. She went on about the lack of lights on her balcony and the fact that the towels were too far away from her bathtub. Whatever.

In the long run I found a cruise on Solstice to more than live up to the promise the short taste of her on the 2-night press junket gave us. The staterooms are extremely utile and comfortable. The ship is easy to navigate and has plenty of things to keep you busy day and night. I am sure that Celebrity has a hit on its hands with these ships.
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